Sensitivity of a global climate model to an increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere


  • Syukuro Manabe,

  • Ronald J. Stouffer


This study investigates the response of a global model of the climate to the quadrupling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The model consists of (1) a general circulation model of the atmosphere, (2) a heat and water balance model of the continents, and (3) a simple mixed layer model of the oceans. It has a global computational domain and realistic geography. For the computation of radiative transfer, the seasonal variation of insolation is imposed at the top of the model atmosphere, and the fixed distribution of cloud cover is prescribed as a function of latitude and of height. It is found that with some exceptions, the model succeeds in reproducing the large-scale characteristics of seasonal and geographical variation of the observed atmospheric temperature. The climatic effect of a CO2 increase is determined by comparing statistical equilibrium states of the model atmosphere with a normal concentration and with a 4 times the normal concentration of CO2 in the air. It is found that the warming of the model atmosphere resulting from the CO2 increase has significant seasonal and latitudinal variation. Because of the absence of an albedo feedback mechanism, the warming over the Antarctic continent is somewhat less than the warming in high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Over the Arctic Ocean and its surroundings, the warming is much larger in winter than summer, thereby reducing the amplitude of seasonal temperature variation. It is concluded that this seasonal asymmetry in the warming results from the reduction in the coverage and thickness of the sea ice. The warming of the model atmosphere results in an enrichment of the moisture content in the air and an increase in the poleward moisture transport. The additional moisture is picked up from the tropical ocean and is brought to high latitudes where both precipitation and runoff increase throughout the year. Further, the time of rapid snowmelt and maximum runoff becomes earlier.